The fall/winter 2013 GUIDE Bulletin features an Unroped profile of Petzl Scholarship recipient Andrew Yasso. Here, on The Guiding Life blog, we present an extended Q & A with Yasso with material we didn’t have room for in the print article.
AMGA: What steps did you take to become a guide?
Andrew Yasso: At Central Michigan University I was running the outdoor club, but I wanted more than just to take people backpacking. After seeing guides in action during the American Alpine Institute’s [AAI’s] Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Course, it made guiding real to me. I finished my college degree in Michigan and moved out West immediately afterward and applied for a job at AAI. I started in the office and continued to climb and build my resume. It was a great opportunity, because I got to climb with a lot of guides from AAI. In a short period I had a pretty good mentorship of qualified guides and climbers. I started guiding the year after working in the office.
AMGA: Describe one of your more life-changing moments while guiding.
AY: This year , I had a group of people on Denali who bonded as a family. Two of them asked me if I could guide them on Ama Dablam, in the Himalaya. They are booking through the AAI sister company, and Adventure Consultants approved it, so October 2014 I have the opportunity to go to Ama Dablam! I try to keep my goals pretty small. I don’t make tick lists. I just take opportunities as they come. I never thought once about climbing in the Himalaya. To have a client flatter you and say, “I want to climb with you, and I want you to help me get up this big mountain, and we’re going to pay you for it”—it’s pretty awesome. I’m getting invited along on their dream trip, and I wasn’t even dreaming about it. I didn’t get into guiding thinking I’d ever go to Alaska, let alone Nepal. You never know who you are going to work with and where it’s going to lead you.
AMGA: What do you do in your spare time?
AY: This October my partner of four years is getting a job and moving to Las Vegas so that we can be together for the seven months I’m guiding out of Nevada. She has a PhD in neuropsychology. The dumbest thing she is doing is dating me, but I’m OK with that. She’s awesome. I like it because she comes from a completely different industry. I don’t want to become so one-track that my whole lifestyle and profession is entirely [centered on] guiding and the outdoor industry. It’s important to be able to relate to our clientele. Many times I’ve talked with my partner and learned about her industry and current scientific advancement and then been able to bring that to my work so that I can have halfway-intellectual conversations with my clients. Or at least show that them what they do is also important. A lot of times it’s so much more valuable if you can ask your clients about what they do.
AMGA: Which of your unique qualities makes you a good guide?
AY: I was fortunate enough to live in Hong Kong, and so I grew up overseas. My parents gave me the opportunity to travel, so I’ve been to lots of places. I know a handful of words in multiple Asian languages. That experience defined who I am and how I’m able to speak with people and, hopefully, relate to them.
AMGA: What are a couple things we should know about you?
AY: I have played table tennis at a collegiate level and I used to play competitive video games. In fact, I made money by playing games. I’m a gamer. That’s the dichotomy. I can go into the mountains for 12 days and then sit down and play games for six hours.
I’m also a closet patriot, regardless of political views. My family “is” the American Dream. My dad came from Lebanon, escaping a brutal civil war there. My whole family has been successful because of the opportunities that America provided.
I wanted to join the Marines when I was younger, but now I don’t think that’s the best way to show my gratitude for this country. But there’s this part of me that really wants to serve and give back. Maybe at the end of this career I’ll do search and rescue or become a firefighter.
AMGA: Final words?
AY: I’m psyched on guiding. I think it’s really cool what we do. It’s this balance of taking it lightly and seriously. You don’t want to overstate your importance, but you really are making people’s dreams come true. And to me that’s super valuable.